Lawmakers: New set-top box rules would promote broadband

New rules proposed by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission aimed at jump-starting the television set-top box market would also encourage broadband adoption across the nation, with new boxes combining TV and Internet services, some lawmakers, device makers and consumer advocates said Thursday.

But some Republican members of a U.S. House of Representatives committee and DirecTV questioned a need for FCC action to promote competition to set-top boxes generally provided by video programming providers. There's already "robust" competition among video programming providers, with telecom carriers and satellite-based providers competing with traditional cable TV providers, Representative Cliff Stearns, a Florida Republican, said during a hearing of the communications subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Despite an FCC proposal to set standards for a video gateway device that would allow multiple devices in a home to connect to a video programming service, many new TV sets already have broadband connectivity built in, Stearns said. Some analysts project that more than 70 million Internet-enabled TV sets will ship in 2012, he said.

"Being able to access the Internet from a television is certainly an appealing idea to many consumers," Stearns said. "As such, the market already seems to be delivering this service without any government assistance."

The FCC, in a national broadband plan released in March, set a goal of requiring all video programming providers to install gateway devices along with set-top boxes by the end of 2012. Two manufacturers control 90 percent of the set-top box market in the U.S., and efforts from the '90s to encourage set-top competition have largely failed, the plan said.

The FCC acted on the set-top recommendations quickly by moving forward on two set-top box items during its April 21 meeting. The commission voted to launch a notice of inquiry on how to encourage set-top box competition, including creating video gateway device standards. Commissioners also voted to launch a further notice of proposed rulemaking to fix problems with CableCard devices, which allow video subscribers to connect third-party devices such as TiVo boxes to video services.

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